December 8, 2003
Lessig on Latter-Day Winston Smiths [3:27 pm]
On May 1, 2003, the Whitehouse’s Office of the Press Secretary released this press release, announcing “President Bush Announces Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.” But then, with airbrush magic, now the same press release has been changed to this, which reports “President Bush Announces Major Combat Operations in Iraq Have Ended.” No update on the page, no indication of when the change occurred, indeed, no indication that any change occurred at all. Instead, there is robots.txt file disallowing all sorts of activities that might verify the government. (Why does any government agency believe it has the power to post a robots.txt file?)
Why would you need to check up on the Whitehouse, you might ask? Who would be so unAmerican as to doubt the veracity of the Press Office? Great question for these queered times. And if you obey the code of the robots.txt file, you’ll never need to worry.
WSIS Info [2:56 pm]
In re the WSIS matters that are cropping up all over, here’s the WWW page for the WSIS Civil Working Group: Patents, Copyrights and Trademarks, which has an action plan for the upcoming meeting. Note that Richard Stallman is on the Steering Committee for this group; and Larry Lessig is on the Agenda for a Friday Roundtable.
(Slashdot discussion: World Summit On The Internet And IT)
Note that there will be some interesting opportunities to kick in your opinion: Go Tell It on the Mountain
Diplomats from 191 countries meet this week in Geneva for the three-day United Nations World Summit on the Information Society. It’s the occasion for The Helloworld Project to project thousands of 500-foot-high laser-light SMS messages onto the Geneva fountain.
Internet users everywhere can post billboard thoughts almost instantly onto the fountain — or onto the northern façade of New York’s U.N. building, the face of a mountain in Rio de Janeiro or the front of a Bombay skyscraper.
“The idea is to use the media to allow people to get their message across to powerful people,” said Swiss Web designer Johannes Gees, who conceived, coordinated and sought funding for the $250,000 Helloworld Project. The project is similar to a smaller version he implemented at the 2001 World Economic Forum.
Anyone can use a website form or send an SMS to create a message and project it across any or all of the four global landmarks with 10- to 20-watt semiconductor lasers. Of course, Internet access hasn’t yet reached all corners of the world — that’s why the United Nations is having the meeting.
Pew’s Query of the Moment [2:35 pm]
Pew’s Internet and American Life Project has posted a quite interesting "Query of the Moment" on their front page:
Are you an artist — musician, writer, painter, or other type of artist? We would like to know how you use the Internet and your views on copyright issues. Specifically, what’s your opinion about file-sharing programs and their impact on the artistic community?
Click here to answer (go there to do so for real)
I look forward to hearing what comes of this one…
CD Pricing Study [2:29 pm]
From Ipsos-Insight’s TEMPO (cited last week in some circles) : Consumers Expect Substantial Savings On Digitally Distributed Albums
Regardless of downloading experience, American Internet users aged 12 and older stated an acceptable price range of $9.99 to $14.99 for a new, full-length physical CD release. In contrast, the acceptable price range for a digitally distributed, full-length album download is only between $5.00 and $9.99 — roughly $5.00 less than for a physical CD. These findings are based on recent interviews conducted with a representative U.S. sample of 488 Internet users aged 12 and over.
“A roughly $5.00 decrease in the range of acceptable prices for a new, full length album distributed digitally versus in a physical format represents a significant decrease in perceived value for this product based solely on format or distribution method,” stated Matt Kleinschmit, a director of research at Ipsos-Insight, and the study’s author.
The research also found that these price expectations for a physical CD were consistent regardless of downloading experience, suggesting that lower prices for digitally distributed music are expected even among consumers who have not downloaded music.
“This may be indicative of a broader re-examination of the perceived value of music by consumers, in that they may be willing to pay more for a durable product that is perceived as more permanent and archival in nature, rather than a digital format that may be viewed as more temporary.”
[...] “Two important points emerged from our study. First, the price points that will maximize consumer adoption for both physical CDs and album downloads are much lower than those currently found in the marketplace. This suggests that recently launched online music services and traditional music retailers, both of whom are actively struggling to lure buyers to boost lagging music sales, may benefit from a more conservative pricing strategy. Second, the relative lack in purchase intent for a digitally distributed, full-length album download even at a $7.99 price-point is also surprising, and may indicate that consumers view digital distribution as a purchase channel primarily for individual songs or tracks, and prefer to purchase a physical CDs when they want to own the entire album.”
Umberto Eco on "Vegetal Memory" [9:32 am]
We have three types of memory. The first one is organic, which is the memory made of flesh and blood and the one administrated by our brain. The second is mineral, and in this sense mankind has known two kinds of mineral memory: millennia ago, this was the memory represented by clay tablets and obelisks, pretty well known in this country, on which people carved their texts. However, this second type is also the electronic memory of today’s computers, based upon silicon. We have also known another kind of memory, the vegetal one, the one represented by the first papyruses, again well known in this country, and then on books, made of paper. Let me disregard the fact that at a certain moment the vellum of the first codices were of an organic origin, and the fact that the first paper was made with rugs and not with wood. Let me speak for the sake of simplicity of vegetal memory in order to designate books.
[...] After having spent 12 hours at a computer console, my eyes are like two tennis balls, and I feel the need of sitting down comfortably in an armchair and reading a newspaper, or maybe a good poem. Therefore, I think that computers are diffusing a new form of literacy, but they are incapable of satisfying all the intellectual needs they are stimulating. Please remember that both the Hebrew and the early Arab civilisations were based upon a book and this is not independent of the fact that they were both nomadic civilisations. The Ancient Egyptians could carve their records on stone obelisks: Moses and Muhammad could not. If you want to cross the Red Sea, or to go from the Arabian peninsula to Spain, a scroll is a more practical instrument for recording and transporting the Bible or the Koran than is an obelisk. This is why these two civilisations based upon a book privileged writing over images. But books also have another advantage in respect to computers. Even if printed on modern acid paper, which lasts only 70 years or so, they are more durable than magnetic supports. Moreover, they do not suffer from power shortages and black-outs, and they are more resistant to shocks.
Up to now, books still represent the most economical, flexible, wash-and-wear way to transport information at a very low cost. Computer communication travels ahead of you; books travel with you and at your speed. If you are shipwrecked on a desert island, where you don’t have the option of plugging in a computer, a book is still a valuable instrument. Even if your computer has solar batteries, you cannot easily read it while lying in a hammock. Books are still the best companions for a shipwreck, or for the day after the night before. Books belong to those kinds of instruments that, once invented, have not been further improved because they are already alright, such as the hammer, the knife, spoon or scissors.
[...] Alas, with an already written book, whose fate is determined by repressive, authorial decision, we cannot do this. We are obliged to accept fate and to realise that we are unable to change destiny. A hypertextual and interactive novel allows us to practice freedom and creativity, and I hope that such inventive activity will be implemented in the schools of the future. But the already and definitely written novel War and Peace does not confront us with the unlimited possibilities of our imagination, but with the severe laws governing life and death.
[...] Indeed, in a role-play game one could rewrite Waterloo such that Grouchy arrived with his men to rescue Napoleon. But the tragic beauty of Hugo’s Waterloo is that the readers feel that things happen independently of their wishes. The charm of tragic literature is that we feel that its heroes could have escaped their fate but they do not succeed because of their weakness, their pride, or their blindness. Besides, Hugo tells us, “Such a vertigo, such an error, such a ruin, such a fall that astonished the whole of history, is it something without a cause? No… the disappearance of that great man was necessary for the coming of the new century. Someone, to whom none can object, took care of the event… God passed over there, Dieu a passé.”
That is what every great book tells us, that God passed there, and He passed for the believer as well as for the sceptic. There are books that we cannot re-write because their function is to teach us about necessity, and only if they are respected such as they are can they provide us with such wisdom. Their repressive lesson is indispensable for reaching a higher state of intellectual and moral freedom.
Nice SCO Spoof [8:45 am]
Incorporating recent news: SCO Must Prove Existence Of Santa Claus in Thirty Days
Supreme Court Judge Isaiah Moore ruled that SCO must show proof of Santa Claus in the next 30 days, or he will dismiss their lawsuit against all Christians and companies profiting from the Christmas holiday.
SCO, formerly known as Santa Cruz Operations, recently changed their name to Santa Claus Operations. This change was widely regarded as a move to improve their image after their controversial claims about Linux. Critics of the name change say it’s just another fantasy created by SCO CEO Kris Kringle, formerly known as Darl McBride, to profit through litigation.
In a recent press release SCO said it would begin sending out invoices to anyone who celebrates or profits from Christmas in the next couple of weeks including corporations and individuals. A price list for SCO Christmas licenses which companies and individuals need to celebrate the holiday without violating SCO’s intellectual property rights were released as well.
International Technology Policy [8:18 am]
Icann and the United States government are expected to come under heavy fire at the conference, which begins Wednesday in Geneva and will be one of the largest gatherings of high-level government officials, business leaders and nonprofit organizations to discuss the Internet’s future. An important point of debate will be whether the Internet should be overseen by the United Nations instead of American groups like Icann.
“I am not amused,” Mr. Twomey said via a cellphone outside the conference room Friday evening after he was barred from the planning meeting. “At Icann, anybody can attend meetings, appeal decisions or go to ombudsmen. And here I am outside a U.N. meeting room where diplomats - most of whom know little about the technical aspects - are deciding in a closed forum how 750 million people should reach the Internet.” Mr. Twomey said that others were also kept out, including members of the news media and anyone who was not a government official.
[...] Because the Internet first took root in the United States, it may be understandable that American interests have tended to prevail. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for example, still has more Internet addresses than all of China, according to Lee McKnight, an associate professor at Syracuse University and an M.I.T. research affiliate.
The joys of owning a Class A IP address…… And here’s some clever rhetorical ju-jitsu, equating the technical performance of the Internet with the policy/oversight performance of ICANN:
But, he said, when it comes to the technical underpinnings of the Internet, Icann should be allowed to continue its work, Mr. Twomey said. “It is not broken, so why fix it?”
Trojan P2P Nets [8:13 am]
The NYTimes discusses the rise of the Trojan-based P2P network in Hackers Steal From Pirates, to No Good End (CNet’s version). What’s particularly notable, assuming that it’s legit, is the series of discussions cited with an online seller of spam services via a Trojan P2P net:
“Sinit appears to have been created as a money-making endeavor,” Mr. Stewart said in a research paper describing his discovery. “This Trojan is also further evidence that money, not notoriety, is now the major driving force behind the spread of malware these days.”
There is now a market for the services of networks of infected machines, which can allow illicit operators to carry out scams and activities prohibited by legitimate Internet service providers. On Web sites frequented by hackers, spammers and people who identify themselves as practitioners of credit card fraud, the remote-access networks, or “radmins,” are offered openly.
On one such site, Carder Planet, a typical pitch from “r00t3d” reads, “I have a steady supply of FAST radmins. I am wanting to offer these to those of you who need good hosting for your scam pages” for periods of a week to “six months or more” for a price of $50 per machine.
The hacker did not respond to online requests for further information, but in a general discussion on the site he defended his work on Trojan-infected machines by saying “money makes this forum and the world go around.” He added that “spam page hosting is obviously needed,” and therefore, “people will purchase that service.”
The implications for the Internet of the new breed of Trojan programs are troubling, said Bruce Schneier, the founder and chief technical officer of Counterpane Internet Security Inc. “A self-replicating peer-to-peer network is kind of scary,” he said, not just because a less easily detectable network is bad news, but because it offers proof that hackers, once primarily interested in breaking into systems for thrills, now have a profit motive.
Innovation — Just What This Market Needs [8:06 am]
OneDisc Technologies of Dallas is in talks with major and independent labels to begin making a combination single-disc product that plays DVD video on one side and CD audio on the other, the company’s president, James Wilson, said.
A combination disc from the singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards, “Live From the Bowery Ballroom” on Rounder Records, is already in stores. One side includes three songs that play in a standard CD player, while the flip side features two DVD music videos. OneDisc owns a license for the technology involved.
For years, artists have included video footage on enhanced music CD’s, but that video, viewable on a computer as a CD-ROM, does not have the same playback quality of DVD’s. More recently, record labels have been bundling bonus DVD’s with traditional CD’s to entice music fans to buy albums rather than illegally downloading or copying them. Those packages include two separate discs, one for audio content and other for video.
“The problem here, in general for the music industry, is that the value of the piece of plastic that has the music on it is going down,” Josh Bernoff, a principal analyst with Forrester Research, said.
The Forrester quote is pretty stupid, really — the piece of plastic has never been valuable. But the real point is legitimate; digital distribution means that the CD as a delivery vehicle has to compete on new fronts, and it has done so imperfectly. After all, the bandwidth in CD delivery is pretty substantial — it’s just that, more and more, the whole album is not what the consumer demands.
Google-washing Redux [7:57 am]
Anyone searching on Google for the phrase “miserable failure” was sent to the official White House biography of President Bush.
Google executives say they have no corporate opinion of the Bush presidency. Instead, the episode is another example of a form of cyber-graffiti known as “Google bombing.”
It is a group prank. If enough Web pages link a certain Web page to a phrase, the Google search engine will start to associate that page with the phrase - even if, as in the case of Mr. Bush’s official biography, the phrase does not occur on the destination Web site
I post this only to demonstrate just how poorly educated some corporate IS firms are. My wife’s been trying to learn from her IS group about Google rankings, and their responses to her have been tragically uninformed — an Amazonian headhunter could come up with a better explanation than some of the nonsense she’s shown me in their e-mails. Yet, here are some hackers readily manipulating the system.
On the other hand, it’s also clear that Google doesn’t quite get it either, as this quote reveals:
Craig Silverstein, Google’s director for technology, says the company sees nothing wrong with the public using its search engine this way. No user is hurt, he said, because there is no clearly legitimate site for “miserable failure” being pushed aside.
I’d love to know what Mr. Silverstein’s definition of "legitimate" is.
Oops [7:54 am]
Mary Hodder points out that yesterday’s “Catching Up” posting exposes not so much how far behind I am, as it demonstrates the limitations of my RSS aggregator. October NYTimes articles, indeed. In fact, I’m pretty sure I cited them already. Must have been *really* worn out from shoveling.
While RSS aggregators have been somewhat useful to me when I’m in a hurry, I’m less enamored of them when I have a little more time. But, maybe that’s just the limitations/problems with the one I’m working with these days. Anyway, my apologies.